Websites are easy to create and maintain. This is one of the strengths of the web, allowing the rapid proliferation of information, ideas, and points of view. It is also one of the web's greatest weaknesses.
Because anyone can easily make a website, people can create dishonest or misleading sites to promote their own interests. They may be trying to sell a product, or promote a political cause, or discredit a rival, or even spread misinformation for fun. Because of this, you have to be careful and evaluate websites to determine whether they are honest and reliable.
When encountering a website, you will want to look at some things to help determine how reliable its information might be.
There are five basic criteria to consider when evaluating any resource:
- What are the author's credentials? Do you have any reason to trust this author?
- Who is funding the page you're looking at? Could they have a reason to spin the information, or even to be dishonest?
- How recent is this information? Are there many dead links on the page?
- Does the author cite his or her sources? Are the sources reliable journals, government agencies, or university labs, or are they other websites that will need to be evaluated?
- How in-depth is this information? Could a deeper understanding be more useful to you?
Those are just the very basics. A great tutorial to help you evaluate web resources is The Ohio State Libraries' Evaluating Web Sites.